28 November 2012

Measuring internal migration with mobiles

This is a cool idea by Joshua Blumenstock - measuring migration within Rwanda through mobile phone data. This video shows one person's movements over four years, proxied by the nearest mobile phone tower with each call made (the full paper is on his website). Are there any visualisations of M-Pesa transfers? I'd love to see a video along the lines of the Kiva one.

Mobility Inference from Call Data from Joshua Blumenstock on Vimeo.

21 November 2012

Co-working in Kigali

One of my first stops in Kigali this week was visiting Jon Stever's Office. I've been exploring co-working spaces in London for the past couple of months so I was intrigued, and thought that I may be in need of a quiet place to work at some point away from the bustle of the Ministries. Plus it's always cool to hang out with former ODI fellows, especially ones who helped invent motorized polo. And it's a great space. Clean, modern, white walls, the fastest internet in town, a ping pong table...

Jon was interviewed recently for the Kigali Sun:
Co-working is so many things. Co-working is about cool entrepreneurs and freelance professionals working together and sharing world class office facilities. Co-working is about joining a community with shared values that innovates and grows together. And, co-working is about enabling entrepreneurship and innovation.
Our initial membership includes an awesome tech company, HeHe Ltd; a top local accounting and auditing firm, FAST Global; a tech support group managed by a well-known Kigali DJ; a really talented graphic designer, Union Multimedia; a web designer that created the popular Living in Kigali website; a creative outreach officer for the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego; a very experienced financial literacy consultant; and a great general contractor. 
In other words, our initial membership already constitutes a complete entrepreneurial and creative ecosystem. Moreover, only two weeks after our trial opening we’ve recorded several instances of collaboration. Several Office(r)s have hired other members for work and have referred each other to paying clients through their network of contacts.
If you're a freelancer or start-up based in Kigali, make sure to check out The Office and watch out for events and happenings on Facebook (www.facebook.com/TheOfficeRW) and Twitter (@TheOfficeRW)

Humanitarian Aid in South Sudan 2013

The UN has just published its annual mammoth humanitarian aid coordination effort for South Sudan, and it has GRAPHS. LOTS of GRAPHS.

Up to 4.5 million people are expected to need food and livelihoods support in 2013, so it's kind of a big deal.

The document pulls together needs analysis across 12 sectors ("clusters") and details costed plans for response by 114 non-governmental organizations and UN agencies, adding up to over $1.1 billion.

Finally kudos to UNDP and OCHA for signing up to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). The next job is to actually publish some data ...

20 November 2012

Social protection in Congo (Brazzaville)

Colleagues Anthony Hodges and Clare O’Brien have a new working paper out with Lisile Ganga from UNICEF on possibilities for social protection for the Republic of Congo. The bottom line - universal child allowances are affordable and would have a huge impact on poverty.
The Republic of Congo, also known as Congo-Brazzaville, is a country with striking contrasts between its status as an oil-rich, low middle-income country and its high levels of poverty and child deprivations. Social protection provision is largely limited to a small minority in the formal sector of the economy. 
This paper presents the results of quantitative micro-simulations on the cost, impact and cost-effectiveness of different policy options for cash transfers in Congo, including universal and targeted child allowances, old-age pensions and disability benefits, along with an analysis of the existing social protection system, the policy framework and institutional capacity. 
While a poverty-targeted child allowance would be the most cost-effective option, in terms of cost per unit of reduction in the poverty gap, institutional and technical constraints make large-scale poverty targeting unviable in a country with very weak governance. Universal categorical approaches would be much simpler to implement, while still being financially feasible given Congo's substantial fiscal surplus (14% on average in 2006-10). Under the assumptions employed for the simulation, a universal allowance for children under 5 would reduce the national poverty headcount by 9% while costing only 0.7% of GDP.

19 November 2012

Probably the best economics blog in Rwanda

There are actually quite a few economists here in Kigali, but as far as I can tell, none of them are blogging. So... I'm laying claim to the title. I'm here for three months. Get in touch if you have any good ideas on policies for productivity and job creation, have a better Rwanda-based economics blog than this one, or want to buy me a beer. Cheers!

18 November 2012

A simple way to improve the targeting of cash transfers

Many social cash transfer programmes in poor countries are targeted on the poorest people through a "proxy-means test." This is a way of estimating the hard-to-measure actual poverty of a household through an easy-to-measure proxy - the ownership of assets such as quality housing or a vehicle.

An alternative method of targeting is "self-targeting" in which the experience of receiving assistance is made unpleasant to discourage the rich from applying - such as through requiring manual labour.

A new paper adds a simple layer of self-targeting onto the existing proxy-means test for a programme in Indonesia with good results. Instead of travelling round to households to administer the test at their home - participants are simply requested to travel themselves to an office to make their application. This simple added inconvenience made a big difference to the effectiveness of the targeting.
per-capita consumption was 13 percent lower for beneficiaries in the self-targeting villages than those under the status quo. Moreover, exclusion error was actually less of a problem in self targeting than in the status quo: the very poorest households were twice as likely to receive benefits in self-targeting than in control areas.
Alatas, Banerjee, Hanna, Olken, Purnamasari, and Wai-Poi, Ordeal Mechanisms in Targeting: Theory and Evidence from a Field Experiment in Indonesia, http://economics.mit.edu/files/8449

15 November 2012

The cost of currency controls in South Sudan

One of the ways that South Sudan has managed to avoid currency depreciation after its collapse in oil revenues, has been to impose hard controls on access to foreign currency. Instead of rationing limited foreign currency through price (to the highest bidder) - rationing has been at the discretion of the authorities. As a result, Kenyan airline Jetlink hasn't been able to convert its South Sudanese Pounds into hard currency with which to buy fuel, and has just announced the suspension of all of its flights.

HT: @bankelele

The wonder of markets

Why are economists so crazy about capitalism and free markets? This video shares some of the wonder.


11 November 2012

Gettin' by digging gold

Fascinating article by Hez Holland on the artisanal mining business in South Sudan. The numbers sound kind of crazy but then South Sudan is a kind of crazy place. 
Leer Likuam sat on the edge of a shallow trench, puffed his pipe and boasted he once found a 200-gram gold nugget bigger than his thumb ...  
On the international market, Likuam's prize lump would fetch $11,000, an enormous sum in a country where the average teacher earns just 360 South Sudanese pounds, about $90, per month ... 
On an average day he might dig up six grams, worth around 1,200 South Sudanese pounds ($270), he said. "Some days you're lucky."
That seems far too high to really be an average day. Perhaps some more boasting. But then
In the last year alone, Likuam has bought 10 cows, each worth around 1,000 pounds.
Predictably the government is keen to get in on the action and get some big foreign companies in to do some real exploration that they can tax. Given the rather weak relationship between government revenues and public services, I'd like to see some research on the current scale of the industry and how many people are making a living with it, and then what we might expected to see from large commercial mining in terms of both revenues and local employment. One of the key messages from WDR2013: not all jobs are equal for development. 

10 November 2012

Against Malaria Foundation

As part of my personal evidence-based living regime (ahem) I'm planning a £1,000 donation to the Against Malaria Foundation. It's at least partly selfish - one of the few ways that spending money can actually bring you happiness is by spending it on other people (can you tell how smug I feel writing this?). There has also been a lot of analysis into the effectiveness of buying bednets. Givewell estimate that the marginal cost of a net is $5.15, and that by buying enough of them, you can probably save a child's life for about $1,600 (or £1,000). I had been hesitating over a recent story about behavioural adaptation by mosquitoes to nets, but responses from Givewell and AMF have basically reassured me. Unless anyone has any other good objections?

our positive view on LLINs remains in place. There is strong evidence that LLINs reduce malaria and save lives and only preliminary/suggestive/mixed evidence that insecticide resistance may reduce their impact. In addition, it appears to us that the malaria control community has been devoting at least some attention and investigation to this issue for a long time, has developed a reasonable knowledge base (if one that has plenty of room to grow), and still recommends the use of LLINs regardless of the resistance situation. 
Indeed, the fact that we’re discussing this issue at all speaks to the extraordinarily and unusually strong evidence base (and supply of data) behind ITN distribution. For most aid interventions that donors can fund, the set of “things that could go wrong” is large and broad, and we have little evidence to address most of them, but when looking at LLIN distribution, the salient concerns are few and specific enough that the malaria control community is able to put substantial resources into specifically investigating them.
 And AMF:
Currently both issues – resistance to pyrethroids and changed time of biting - are not widespread. Currently LLINs remain highly effective in reducing the incidence of malaria.
 And why not, here's the Donation Page

09 November 2012

Excellent World Bank blogging

This is very entertaining. Apparently its now ok for World Bank staff to elaborately and brazenly take the piss out of the editor of the Lancet and DFID staff. HT: JustinSandefur

08 November 2012

Mental illness in Juba

This is a photo by Hannah McNeish of a mentally ill lady abandoned by her family and locked up in Juba Prison, where
"she receives no psychiatric drugs or any other care. In a city described quite aptly yesterday as "an aid orgy" that the journos claimed surpasses Kabul and Eastern DRC, it's horrible to know that there are around 50 people trapped in dark and dirty cells in the capital going slowly madder as there is no money for medicine."
I saw something similar in a slum in Nairobi. Winding through a dark dirty crowded maze of alleys and dwellings I caught a glimpse of what seemed to be a person locked in a small dark room. I was in a hurry and it wasn't the safest part of town so I didn't stop to ask questions but it creeped the hell out of me. Here is more from Hannah on prisoners in Juba.

07 November 2012

You can do it Matt!

This is a message of support for Matt (of Aid Thoughts international blogging stardom), who has 24 days left until he submits his PhD thesis. Matt I hope you conquer.

06 November 2012

Rapid increase in financial access in Rwanda

Impressive results from the 2012 Finscope survey for Rwanda. Since 2008, access to commercial banks has increased by 60%, access to other non-bank formal financial services (e.g. Savings And Credit Co-operatives (SACCOs)) increased by 275%, and total financial exclusion has fallen by almost half. Someone is doing something right.

Johannesburg in the 1890s

That's the verdict of South African journalists Kevin Bloom and Richard Poplak on arrival in Juba. Like Johannesburg in the 1890s. " We have never seen an aid orgy like this one - not in Kabul, not in eastern DRC, nowhere." 

Minerals in Mongolia

Mining experts estimate that the country possesses as much as $1 trillion worth of untapped precious metals and minerals in at least 6000 sites. That works out to potentially over $333,333 per every man, woman and child in the country.
 Brookings  Kari

Killer facts on migration

With a nod to Duncan Green - I asked Michael Clemens for some "killer facts" on migration after being invited to put some questions to a panel a few weeks ago. In the spirit of Adam Ozimek's call for more blogging on migration, I'm reposting them here.
  • Economic gains to even modestly greater global migration flows are much larger than the total elimination of all policy barriers to trade and all barriers to capital flows (source).
  • 82% of the Haitian-born who have left poverty have done so by leaving Haiti (at a PPP$10/day poverty line, i.e. 1/4 of median income for the bottom decile of UK incomes)  (source).
  • A Ghana-born, Ghana-educated semi-skilled construction worker earns at least six times the real living standard for doing exactly the same job in the US versus Ghana (source). 
  • A McDonalds worker can make up to 10 times as much in real terms doing exactly the same job in one country versus another country (source).
Which is your favourite fact?

WDR 2013: Jobs (but no migration please)

I went to the UK launch of the WDR this afternoon at the shiny new ODI offices in London. The bottom line is similar to but less poetic than something the Nigerian Central Bank Governor said in Oxford a few months ago:
"If a politician tells you that they are going to create a job, throw them out of the window. Fix the roads, fix the power, fix the security, and the people will create their own jobs."
Or in the report's words "Labor policies matter less than assumed" (as an aside, Kathleen referred a few times to this page (38) as their "tweets" which jarred for some reason - but its a good summary of the arguments).

Stefan Dercon had a great line on the WDR as a valiant attempt to construct a coherent narrative from an incoherent literature. He also pointed out the lack of any political economy analysis. Which leads to the obvious criticism about migration.

I thought I'd wait until I'd actually read the thing before commenting, but yeah, its pretty weak. Here is the WDR explaining "Global patterns of migration":
The decline of transportation costs, the growth of Persian Gulf economies following surges in oil prices, and the entry into world markets of developing countries with large populations have all stimulated a surge of migrant workers worldwide. 
Differences in expected earnings between the country of origin and the country of destination are an important reason for people to migrate. Earnings gains, however, are offset to varying degrees by the direct costs of migration (such as transportation fees and intermediation services) as well as by indirect costs associated with the difficulties of adapting to a different culture and society and leaving family and friends behind. These costs also help explain aggregate migration flows.
As well as those "costs" there's also the whole global apartheid thing, in which a person's right to choose where to live and work is determined by the country of their birth and not by their talents or aspirations. There are 700 million people who would like to permanently move to another country - including over 38% of the population in every sub-Saharan African country surveyed (the WDR does cite the Gallup World Poll, just not this particular finding).

Gabriel Demombynes notes that the 2009 WDR (Economic geography) was much stronger on migration. As from a quick glance was the 1995 WDR (Workers in an integrating world). Perhaps the problem is just fatigue?

Blattman on Cameron and the UN

Well worth a read in full if you haven't already:
This is a big leap for the UN. Cameron is trying to haul them into the 1990s. He’ll get a lot of credit for that. You’ll forgive me, though, for wishing we didn’t live in a world where we’re delighted when our global government is just 20 instead of 40 years behind the times.
I also liked a line that a friend told me on Friday:
But this "golden thread" just isn't really a "thread." It's just a list.

05 November 2012

Development success in Bangladesh

in the past 20 years Bangladesh has made extraordinary improvements in almost every indicator of human welfare. The average Bangladeshi can now expect to live four years longer than the average Indian, though Indians are twice as rich. Girls’ education has soared, and the country has hugely reduced the numbers of early deaths of infants, children and mothers. Some of these changes are among the fastest social improvements ever seen. Remarkably, the country has achieved all this even though economic growth, until recently, has been sluggish and income has risen only modestly.
 The Economist  TH

02 November 2012

Bigot of the Year

Britain's most senior Catholic has been named "bigot of the year" by Stonewall for writing that gay relationships are "harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved," that gay marriage is "madness" and a "grotesque subversion" of a human right, and making a bizarre analogy between the introduction of gay marriage and the reintroduction of slavery.

All of which is pretty disgusting, but I'm such a nerd that I'm almost more annoyed when he explicitly uses the word "evidence" when I'm pretty sure there is no such evidence.
All children deserve to begin life with a mother and father; the evidence in favour of the stability and well being which this provides is overwhelming and unequivocal. It cannot be provided by a same-sex couple, however well-intentioned they may be.
Cardinal, that's a step too far. It's also personal - I managed without a father just fine thanks for your concern Cardinal. All children deserve love but the gender of their parents is irrelevant, and that is an evidence-based statement.
Research has shown that the kids of same-sex couples — both adopted and biological kids — fare no worse than the kids of straight couples on mental health, social functioning, school performance and a variety of other life-success measures. 
In a 2010 review of virtually every study on gay parenting, New York University sociologist Judith Stacey and University of Southern California sociologist Tim Biblarz found no differences [my emphasis] between children raised in homes with two heterosexual parents and children raised with lesbian parents.
Is there an award for evidence-abuser of the year?

What Works in Aid to Education

many of the lessons of what works in foreign aid to education are known, but they are not implemented. These lessons are of two sorts,  
1: the interface of aid with education systems in recipient countries To make a difference, what is of paramount importance is to start at the level of the whole education sector—rather than to pick out the sub-sector most popular with donors and channel a disproportionate share of funds to make this ‘work’ better, for this distorts a government’s sector-wide planning. [Ed: Girl's Education anyone??]
2: the ‘nuts and bolts’ of education systems themselves—what makes them work, how the different bits fit together and how aid monies can distort priorities, making the government co-ordination efforts more difficult as well as creating fragmented accountability. Add to this the projectized capacity development and the untouched institutional or organizational development, together with any lack of leadership or ownership of the capacity development, and the distorting influence of aid monies likely trumps their contributions.